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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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BOOK: Cat Running
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Finally, there it was—a small yellow house complete with a slanting roof and three gingerbread-trimmed walls, with a fourth wall of natural grotto stone. A wall that also provided, at the back of the small room, a natural stone bench or bed.

Cat loved the way the house looked sheltering far back under the overhang. Of course, there were sizable cracks between the wooden walls and the cliff face. The door tended to drag a bit, and the roof might be a little bit crooked, but that was only to be expected since she’d not had much experience as a carpenter. It didn’t matter anyway. She liked the slightly crooked walls and the sagging roofline. It only added to the mysterious effect.

NINE

T
HE FIRST TWO WEEKS
of October had come and gone, and Play Day was only a week away, when Cliff brought up the subject at the table—the kitchen table, since the Kinseys had stopped eating supper in the dining room except on Sundays. Cliff and Father were still in their good store clothes, except that Cliff had taken off his coat and tie and hung them on the back of his chair.

Even before Cliff said anything about Play Day, Cat had been eating fast, hoping to leave the table as soon as possible. Mama had burned the carrots and the meat loaf was too raw, and Father had been cross about it. Even crosser than usual. So Mama was being more pitiful than usual. Cliff was obviously in one of his ornery teasing moods. Only Ellen, in her usual neat blouse and skirt and with her dark braids wrapped firmly around her head, seemed the same as always. Not that there was anything particularly comforting about that.

It was the first time any of the family had said anything about Play Day for a long time. Not that Ellen would have mentioned it, ever. Sports in general, and anything Cat was good at in particular, was just something that Ellen wasn’t likely to bring up. But last year the rest of the family had discussed Play Day quite a bit, and especially Cat’s part in it.

She could recall several discussions about the races and lots of talk about whether Cat had a chance to win any of them. And after she’d won there’d been even more talk, and Father had actually hung her two blue ribbons on the store’s bulletin board for all his customers to see and admire.

But this year no one was talking about the races, at least not before that Monday night, and even then Cliff probably only brought it up in an attempt to change the subject. After Father had finished commenting on the raw meat loaf, he started in on the inventory and what to order and what not to order for the next quarter of the year. Father and Ellen were always talking about the inventory.

Cliff was obviously bored. Kinsey’s Hardware had always bored Cliff a lot more than it did Ellen, even though they’d both been working there for a long time. In Cliff’s case, probably a much longer time than he would have if it hadn’t been for the depression. Neither Cliff nor Ellen had been able to get jobs anywhere else when they got out of school, even though Cliff, particularly, had certainly tried. But eventually they both gave up and settled for working for Father at the store. Working for, as Cliff sometimes said, miserable wages but great security.

But having a secure job during a terrible depression obviously didn’t keep Cliff from being bored by things like inventory. So while Ellen and Father talked and figured, Cliff fidgeted and squirmed like a little kid in church. And then he changed the subject. He did it at first by teasing Cat—one of his favorite occupations.

He was gobbling down his dessert at the time, which was only applesauce. The Kinseys, unlike the Kellys, who had cake or pie almost every night, never had real desserts on weekdays—only fruit or bread and jam. Cliff poured some thick cream on his applesauce and then reached over and pretended he was going to pour some on Cat’s—because he knew she hated thick cream. She snatched her dish away and frowned at him but he only looked up at her, from under his dark, devilish eyebrows, with a teasing grin.

“Just trying to build up your strength for Play Day, kiddo,” he said. “You’re going to win all that prize money for Brownwood again, aren’t you? I hear the Lions Club is putting up a hundred bucks this year for the winning school, for sports equipment. That’ll buy a whole lot of new bats and mitts, won’t it?”

Cat took another mouthful of applesauce and swallowed slowly before she said, “I won’t be winning anything this year.”

“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?” Cliff poured another big glop of cream on his few remaining chunks of applesauce and stirred it into a sickening yellow-green sludge. “Some new speed-demon in the running this year?”

“No, I’m just not going to
be
in any of the races,” Cat said.

“You’re not?” Cliff sounded amazed. “You mean Fast Cat Kinsey is not going to run for the glory of the old Brownwood Academy? Not to mention the family honor.” His grin was wolfish. “The first famous athlete in the Kinsey clan in generations and you’re going to let us all down?”

Cat only shrugged. Cliff looked around—at Father first and then at Mama—and his grin faded. He turned back to Cat. “You sick or something, kid?” he asked.

Cat scraped up her last bite of applesauce. Then she let her glance flicker toward Father before she said, “No, I’m not sick. I just decided not to be in any of the races this year. Okay?”

Cliff looked again at Father. “You know about this?” he asked.

Father was busy doing his careful end-of-the-meal arrangement of napkin and eating utensils, and for a moment he didn’t answer. “No,” he said finally. “I didn’t know. Catherine hasn’t seen fit to inform me that she doesn’t intend to be in the races this year. Not until this moment. The decision is hers to make, of course, but”—he turned to Cat—“it would have been thoughtful of you to have told your mother and me before this late date. I’ve been telling people you’d be running. People ask now and then at the store, and I’ve been saying you would be competing as usual.”

There were a lot of things Cat might have answered. She might have said,
Well, I just decided not to be the only runner who isn’t allowed to wear appropriate clothing. Appropriate and modest, too, like Miss Albright says.

But she didn’t say it and she also didn’t say that it served him right if he was embarrassed. It served him right if he’d been bragging to his customers about how his daughter would probably win again, and now he was going to be mortified when she didn’t even run.

Instead she only looked down and said, “I thought you knew. I thought you knew that I’d have been practicing and talking about it and everything like last year if I’d been planning to run.” Then she got up quickly and started clearing the table, biting her lips to keep them from curling into an angry, triumphant smile.

But even though nothing was said about
why
she wasn’t going to be in the races, they all obviously knew the reason. Even Cliff seemed to catch on, because after a minute he suddenly nodded and said, “Yeah. Well, I guess I get the picture.”

Father didn’t say anything more, but as Cat went on clearing the table she could feel his eyes on her. She could feel his eyes and she could also feel a kind of jangly tightness in the room. A tightness that made her wish that someone would say something—or even shout. Even shouting was better than some kinds of silence. After a while Father got up and left the room.

While Cat was helping with the dishes as usual—Ellen never did dishes except on her days off—Mama only talked about other things. She told Cat about a radio program she’d heard, about the best new books of the year, and then she talked about the new novel by Edna Ferber that she’d just started reading. Usually Cat liked talking books with Mama but tonight she couldn’t keep her mind on what was being said, and after a while Mama seemed to realize she wasn’t listening and stopped.

Later that evening, sitting on the floor in front of the open window in her dark room, Cat leaned her arms on the windowsill and stared out into a calm, clear night. Except for a faint reddish glow over the hills to the west, the sky was a clear transparent black. The ghostly howl of a train whistle drifted up the valley on the night air, from where the evening passenger express was racing through the darkness toward faraway exciting places. Cat shivered. The thought of being on a train racing off to mysterious new places always made her shiver. She tried to keep her mind on the racing train, but after a while other thoughts started to creep in. She raised her face to the softly breathing night and suddenly blinked away threatening tears.

She didn’t want to cry, but whenever she thought about rules that couldn’t ever be challenged or argued with, a quick fire burned behind her eyes. And when she let herself remember how much she really wanted to run, and how sure she’d been of winning, there was another mix of anger and pain to swallow—and the anger was partly at herself.

For a long time anger burned her eyes, tightened her lungs, and hurried the rhythm of her heart. She kept thinking how sure she would have been to win, if she were only running—because she
was
faster than ever. In the practice race with Janet she’d known she was faster, even before everyone said so. Faster than ever, even though she hadn’t been practicing—except, of course, for all that running back and forth to the grotto.

She might have sat there half the night, wide awake and staring, if it weren’t for that sudden memory. The grotto. Suddenly she was there, looking up at the sheltering overhang, and then back at the deep curve of the grotto wall, and, farther back in the shadows, her wonderful fairy-tale cottage. As the sight of it became clearer and more real, her breathing calmed, her clenched hands loosened—and suddenly her eyes were heavy. Leaving the window she crawled into bed and fell asleep.

TEN

O
N PLAY DAY MORNING
the buses and cars began to arrive very early. Buses full of contestants from the other schools in the district, and cars carrying parents and other spectators. It was going to be a hot day and most of the fathers were in their shirtsleeves and the mothers and teachers were wearing bright-colored summery dresses.

By ten o’clock the school yard, the hallways, and all the classrooms of Brownwood School were full of crowds of people, milling about and talking in loud, excited voices. Everything looked and sounded and even smelled different. Whiffs of perfume, hair oil, and tobacco mingled with the familiar schoolroom smells of books and chalk, freshly sharpened pencils, and stale bologna sandwiches.

Out on the playground the contestants were warming up, throwing softballs and dodgeballs, and racing up and down the driveway and around the track. Cat and Janet walked around watching and talking to people they knew.

Janet was signed up to be in a dodgeball game and, of course, the race for sixth-grade girls. Her Shirley Temple curls were smooth and fat and she was wearing new blue slacks and special low-cut track shoes like the ones worn by real racing contestants. Cat’s lips twitched in a secret smile. As if fancy new shoes would be enough to make a runner out of Janet Kelly.

Cat was wearing a dress, of course. And not even the stylish green one with the big square collar that she’d had to do so much whining to get. She’d considered the green one that morning and then decided on an old-fashioned polka-dot thing. If she had to look ridiculous she might as well do a good job of it. Not that any Kinseys would be there to notice. Mama wasn’t feeling well and Father had decided that he and Cliff wouldn’t be attending the Play Day this year because they were too busy at the store.

She’d been dreading Play Day. Dreading the thought of how different it was going to be from last year, when she had waited all day long for the races, thinking about winning and knowing she had a good chance. But now that the day had started it wasn’t too bad. Watching the other events and listening to Janet’s excited jabbering was almost fun. And when kids from the other schools saw her and came over to talk about the races, she began to get a kind of spiteful satisfaction out of telling them she wasn’t going to run. And when they asked, “Why? Why not, Cat?” she only said, “Because I don’t feel like it.”

The dodgeball games weren’t until eleven o’clock and, as always, the races were in the afternoon, so Cat and Janet watched broad jumping for a while, and then the softball throw, cheering for the kids from Brownwood School. But Brownwood wasn’t doing too well. All the first-place winners were from Lincoln or Elwood. But then Carl Monroe, Brownwood’s best pitcher, won first place in the softball throw and that helped some.

When it was time for the sixth-grade dodgeball game, Cat went over to cheer for Janet—briefly. As usual, Janet was put out on about the third throw. She ran across the ring once or twice, dodged the wrong way as usual, got hit, and came out of the game giggling—also as usual. That was another strange thing about Janet. It never seemed quite natural to Cat that a person could care so little about winning or losing.

Lunchtime was more noisy confusion, with kids running around looking for lost lunch pails and sitting down to eat in usually forbidden places, like in the sawdust under the bars, along the hall railings, and even out on the front lawn. Lots of kids were lined up at the tables in the back hall, where the PTA mothers were serving cookies and lemonade. And a big bunch of people, kids and parents, too, were buzzing around the official scorekeeper’s booth trying to find out who had the most points and which school might be going to win the Lions Club’s money. The rumor was that Brownwood was in second place just behind Elwood.

The most popular event, the races, finally began about two o’clock, and as always the primary girls came first. A Brownwood third grader, Marybeth Higgins, came in second, not that it mattered all that much. Of course, Marybeth’s points would help Brownwood a little, but nobody was too interested in the little kids’ races, especially the ones for girls. Then came the primary boys, and after that the upper-grade races began—the fourth graders, the fifth, and finally the ones everyone was waiting for—the sixth graders and then the Winners’ Grand Finale.

It was very strange watching the sixth-grade girls take their places at the starting line. Standing on the sidelines Cat kept her eyes on the runners, ignoring the stares and comments. Things such as “Look: That’s Cat Kinsey. You know, the girl who beat Joe Shaffer last year.”

BOOK: Cat Running
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